Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV orchestrated the fall of the Atreides because his adoptive cousin Leto was becoming too popular in the Landsraad, and the Atreides army was beginning to rival his own Sardaukar. However, he actually admired Leto, wished they weren't enemies, and even wished that Irulan was old enough to marry Leto whom he considered an ideal choice to succeed him on the throne:

'Princess-daughter, my father said, I would that you'd been older when it came time for this man to choose a woman.' My father was 71 years old at the time and looking no older than the man in the portrait, and I was only 14 years old, but yet I remember deducing in that instant that my father secretly wished the Duke had been his son, and disliked the political necessities that made them enemies.”

Wouldn't the simplest solution be to simply have Leto's son Paul marry his daughter Irulan? This would allow him to avoid taking the risk of going to war with the powerful Atreides + eventually getting deposed by a Machiavellian Feyd-Rautha (potentially violently).

He also has many options to play the unpopular Harkonnen out e.g. by announcing their marriage after the Atreides take over Dune to ensure all power bases are within the control of the new combined Atreides / Corrino house. He could even let the Harkonnen attack continue, defend the Duke, blame the Harkonnen for attacking another great house, and use it as an excuse for their downfall.

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    That would make too much sense.
    – Buzz
    Commented Mar 22 at 15:34
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    This question is very confusing to me, as Paul did marry Irulan! She's the one who is the defacto narrator and the author of "Collected Sayings of Muad'Dib" and many other works dedicated to the task of building the legend of Muad'Dib. Is your question more why not do this earlier?
    – Mathaddict
    Commented Mar 22 at 16:14
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    Thanks for your feedback. I think the idea is that the Emperor could have avoided all the plotting with the Harkonnen, starting a war with the Atreides, etc by simply starting an alliance with the Atreides via offering to have Irulan marry Paul. In the books, Paul forcibly takes Irulan's hand after he defeats and takes the Emperor hostage. Commented Mar 22 at 16:18
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    Possibly the BG wouldn't allow it until they'd worked out what they wanted to do with Paul.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Mar 22 at 16:28
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    I fail to understand why this is attracting close votes when it's perfectly answerable in-universe
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 22 at 19:46

3 Answers 3


Irulan marrying Paul would make the situation worse (for Shaddam), not better. Although she's the Heiress Presumptive, the realpolitik of the situation is that a young and vibrant male heir would be far more palatable to the Laandsraad than a weakling Empress known to be controlled by the Bene Gesserit. Paul Atreides/Corrino, son of the extremely popular Duke Leto Atreides would be an obvious match to take on the throne as a future Emperor Paul Corrino.

“Our Emperor still has no heir,” Lupino Ord, the Grumman ambassador, commented. The big man’s voice was a lilting shrill. He’d been drinking steadily. “Only two daughters, Irulan and Chalice. Not that women aren’t valuable . . .” He looked around mischievously with his coal-black eyes, catching the disapproving gazes of several ladies at the table. “But without a male heir, House Corrino must step aside in favor of another Great House.”

Dune: House Harkonnen

If Paul marries Irulan, Shaddam will have two powerful Atreides enemies inside the Royal Court rather than one upstart Duke sitting outside the family. Paul marrying Irulan would dramatically enhance the likelihood of Shaddam being assassinated by forces loyal to the Duke, or simply being forced by the Landsraad to abdicate his throne, especially if Irulan has a male heir and doubly so if it becomes known that Shaddam is incapable of fathering a future male heir.

In this room she had allowed Shaddam to impregnate her five times, but he rarely visited her bed anymore. The Emperor had, quite correctly, given up hope that she would ever bear him a male heir. Now sterile, he would have no more children: not by her, nor by any of his concubines.

Dune: House Corrino

Obviously all of this is a moot point. The Bene Gesserit, the true powers behind his reign, won't allow Shaddam to marry Irulan off, which is why she remains unwed.

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    Ignoring the Bene Gesserit issue for a bit, why would marrying Irulan off to Paul put two powerful Atreides enemies within his court, rather than two powerful Atreides allies? Paul eventually taking over as Emperor Paul Corrino would surely be the entire point of such a marriage, not a risk. That may increase the risk of assassination, but given the Atreides’ code of honour, that still doesn’t seem like a bigger risk than wiping out an entire house and risking an intergalactic war. Commented Mar 25 at 9:16
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    @JanusBahsJacquet traditionally, especially in the mind of a paranoid ruler, a son is an ally, but a brother (especially not full-blood related) is an enemy.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Mar 25 at 9:28
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    It's the eventually part that's the problem. The day after he married her, he'll be gunning for Shaddam's job
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 25 at 10:36
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    Good Point @JanusBahsJacquet. There is a simpler explanation when you consider that the balance of power has to do with the Emperor's power vs the Lords of the Laandsraad. An alliance with any house would scare the rest and there would be war. Commented Mar 25 at 19:53

I think you're misinterpreting what Irulan thought that Shaddam was thinking.

Wishing that Leto were Shaddam's son is not a reason to become allies - it's recognition that Leto is so capable and popular that the only way he would not be a threat to House Corrino is if he were part of it.

As to the marriage question, Shaddam may be idly thinking that a marriage of Irulan to Leto would have neutralized Leto's threat, but being the Emperor's son-in-law would tie Leto into the existing power structure in a way that being the Princess's father-in-law would not. And furthermore, a marriage alliance between Corrino and Atreides might have given Harkonnen an opening to gain allies who feared a stronger Imperial family (Shaddam had to work against Atreides in secret because every major house is always concerned when one house gets to close to the Emperor - the other houses like Atreides as a counterbalance to the Emperor, and a marriage alliance is the opposite of being a counterbalance).


"Long story short, too late" in terms of plot devices and writing. Without the conflict between the houses Atreides and Harkonnen with imperial Corrino hovering (not to mention the BG), the realization of Paul as the quickening of the way would not exist as such; the Fremen were already keen to take his water without question. House Atreides would mean nothing to Arrakis without their prophet come to dwell among them, and Arrakis would mean little more to the Atreides of it or its people if they didn't need any winning over, let alone have a Missionaria Protective prophecy (and religion made law) built in to their own reasons for survival as Fremen.

Shaddam (or other forces) set himself up to fail in the imperium by imposing rule on the desert planet. He avoids nothing in sending his cousins to die; he thinks he is ten feet tall and bullet proof.

The Fremen didn't blink when the Planetologist told them it would take generations numbered beyond understanding. Not unlike the loyalty that the Atreides command and earn. '"Sire!" and the word was torn from him' (paraphrase, citation to follow).

Without the possibilities of survival that Leto names (taking over the duty and ethics -- desert power -- or going rogue with the house atomics) and the possibilities the Bene Gesserit have in mind (ibid and a kwisatz haderach), Paul would have been as spoiled a crown as his Harkonnen cousins and Irulan. They didn't win any fans on Arrakis, but Leto saw injustice off the bat and changed the Harkonnen waste water customs. Would Leto or Paul have done the same if the planet were handed to him with Irulan's hand?

Fortunately the BG didn't give Shaddam IV any sons, a quick twist on genetics and the control of every cell of the body.

Irulan and Paul are about the same age (Paul is a teenager, y'all, it's a coming of age story too) and she does speak of her father's wish. For her to marry Leto, nothing but customary politics seems to forbid it, and to Shaddam and the length in generations, it can be only a dream of his within the scheme of his, the motivation for which he does not fully understand, heavily if not fully influenced by the BG breeding program. Let's not forget they got there first.

In the trifold of power existant at the beginning of the first novel, Shaddam is more like a lone Bishop, or the Emperor ever married to the Queen. Of course, the emperor is not the only one who thinks he is the master manipulator on the ivory keys.

You cite the wishes of nature vs. nurture. Irulan is a product of her raising who in her books and actions defines it, defies it, and realizes it.

Her counter to Chani is an emotional and plot breaking point for all of them. If Shaddam had married her to Leto or had arranged her engagement to Paul (the Emperor wouldn't dare have his daughter be a concubine or reveal her strength as she was BG trained like the poor Lady Jessica) to begin with, there would be a thousand different "what if" paths to the kwisatz haderach landing on the planet with the greatest hydraulic despotism in the universe.

Story over in five pages when the Wizard grants Dorothy her wish before she ever meets her friends, tins, foils, or foes, and no one looks behind the curtain. Then Dorothy would have no allies, and she did not defeat the fastest broom in the West by herself. There was at least one small yappy type dog involved.

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    This reads like a stream of consciousness thought process vaguely adjacent to the question, but I'm not sure it actually answers it... I think it's trying to answer it out-of-universe, because in-universe, Shaddam doesn't have the information this reasoning seems to be based on? Commented Mar 24 at 21:46
  • @ShadowRanger You make it sound like his ideas are his own ideas. They aren't; he was born and bred that way in-universe, wasn't he?
    – livresque
    Commented Mar 29 at 6:29

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